Date: 28 Feb 2012

BAS biologist Dr Simon Morley holding a Patagonian toothfish - Dissostichus eleginoides, about 1.2m long at King Edward Point Station on South Georgia
The Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) announced this week the establishment of a large sustainable use Marine Protected Area (MPA) covering over 1 million km2 of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) Maritime Zone.

As part of a long-term management and conservation strategy for the Territory, the announcement establishes in law one of the largest areas of sustainably managed ocean in the world.

Dr Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey, who advised the Government of South Georgia on the establishment of the MPA said: “South Georgia is a globally important island that deserves the strongest level of protection. I believe that this is a major step forward for conservation, not just at South Georgia, but also for the wider Antarctic. As a first step, it creates an important legal framework that will provide opportunities to enhance conservation and protection into the future.”

Nigel Haywood, Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, who formally signed the legislation, stated: “The waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are among the most productive in the Southern Ocean, with very high biodiversity. We remain committed to the highest standards of environmental management in this unique and globally important UK Overseas Territory. Whilst this announcement represents a hugely significant step in our management of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, we will not rest on our laurels and will continually strive to improve our already excellent management of the Territory”

The MPA declaration enshrines in law much of the existing marine protection policy, and creates one of the largest MPAs on the planet. Within the MPA all commercial bottom trawling will be prohibited and commercial bottom fishing (primarily longlining) will be restricted to depths greater than 700 m. The ban on bottom trawling protects the benthic marine environment from the damaging effects of bottom trawling, whilst the 700 m depth minima for bottom fishing protects juvenile toothfish.

The MPA includes significant areas of no-take zone (IUCN Category I) around the coast of each island. These no-take zones (over 20,000 km2 in total, equivalent to the total area of Wales) will protect the foraging grounds of many of the Territory’s land-based marine predators such as penguins, seals and seabirds and protect the spawning areas of many demersal fish species.

 GSGSSI will continue to licence fisheries for toothfish, icefish and krill in the MPA (outside of the no-take zones) and use the revenue to patrol the region to prevent illegal fishing and undertake research and monitoring. These fisheries are extremely carefully managed, with both the icefish and toothfish fisheries certified as sustainably managed by the Marine Stewardship Council.

FCO Minister Henry Bellingham welcomed the announcement. Read more at: